Railways were a lifeline for Guelph, connecting people and industry Toronto into what it is today. The highway came later, but both means of transportation were pivotal in the city’s history, allowing it to grow in population and economic activity.
Guelph’s railways and highways have not carved up the city to the same degree as other cities. But they do remain as long, restricted corridors in some spots that cut off access across, over or under them for large distances. This creates increased travel times for pedestrians and cyclists. Improved access across these corridors is low hanging fruit to improving Guelph’s broader active transportation network.
Check out some stats and an interactive map below. Links to explore Toronto’s railways and highways more in-depth are at the bottom.
- Stats and Mapping
Railways came to Guelph 11 years before Confederation. The Grand Trunk Railway was the primary player that came through town, but a desire to protect local industry from a monopoly spurred the city to create and build its own railway. This arrangement has remained in place since, and has significantly shaped the fabric of the city.
Industry in the area continues to be served on city-owned rail lines, with options between two main freight carriers. The Guelph Central Station forms the centre of this system for transporting people, with the 1911 station building being the defining feature. This hub allows for easy interchange between VIA trains, GO trains and busses, as well as local buses. It is also the gateway into the core of the city, as any proper city should have.
Area: 31.3 ha
Length: 10.1 km
Average Width: 31 m
Tracks: 1 – 2
The Guelph subdivision was the first major railway built through Guelph. Built by the Grand Trunk Railway in 1856, it established GTR’s mainline from Toronto through the city towards London. GTR was eventually absorbed by Canadian National Railway (CN). Through this, both freight and passenger train service was offered to the City, connecting people and goods to Toronto and southwestern Ontario.
The current train station along the line was built in 1911. As with the rest of the country, passenger service offered by CN and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) was folded into VIA Rail Canada in 1977, and that included passenger services at Guelph Station. GO Transit began offering train service to Guelph in 1990, but it and and an extension to Barrie were rolled back in 1993. GO trains returned to Guelph with a service extension to Kitchener in 2011, and Metrolinx bought part of the line between Georgetown and Kitchener in 2014 for long-term upgrades and operation.
CN continued to operate freight services the line until 1992, when it leased the line (between Georgetown and London) to the Goodrich & Exeter Railway (GEXR). This arrangement remained in place until 2018, when the lease was not renewed, and CN took back operations.
The line is mostly a single track. Two tracks existed between Guelph Central Station and Highway 6, but the second track was partly ripped up around when CN sold the line. This coincided with installation of a signal system along the line to improve train capacity and safety. Metrolinx began re-installing the second track in the 2020s, which also required a new retaining wall between Wyndham and Dublin Streets. This allowed for greater train speeds, also increasing train capacity and reducing trip times.
Area: 19.9 ha
Length: 9.6 km
Average Width: 21 m
The Goderich subdivision was borne out of local industry’s dissatisfaction with GTR’s monopoly on freight railway services. The Guelph Junction Railway (GJR) was incorporated in 1884, mostly and eventually 100% owned by the City of Guelph itself. In 1888, the Goderich Subdivision was built south to the mainline of CP (now Canadian Pacific Kansas City; CPKC). This opened up Guelph’s local industry to two competitors, and that arrangement has remained in place since.
The City has not operated the line itself. The line was leased to CP from its opening until 1997, when CP indicated it had no interest in renewing. The City then contracted line services out to Ontario Southland Railway between 1998 and 2020, and subsequently to GEXR since 2020.
Being a city-owned corridor, much of the tracks are paralleled by a trail. A formal trail exists between Speedvale and Macdonell, and a footpath parallels it between the Eramosa River and Stone Road.
As name suggests, the line was built north all the way to Goderich. This was abandoned in 1988, and in its place, the Guelph to Goderich Trail has slowly been built.
Area: 8.5 ha
Length: 2.8 km
Average Width: 31 m
The Fergus Spur was established as the Guelph & Galt Railway (G&G) in 1856, at the same time the GTR came to town. This connected Guelph to Preston and Galt, now part of Cambridge. This then connected to the Great Western Railway (GWR), which continued to a line connecting London and Hamilton. Technically this was a second competitor for Guelph industry to choose in shipping their goods, but GTR bought GWR in 1882, creating the monopoly the City sought to free itself from two years later.
Service along the line has remained, even as GTR was folded into CN. Sections of the line in Cambridge and to the south have been slowly abandoned, and very little traffic uses the line today, although it is still operating.
Guelph North Spur
Area: 10.2 ha
Length: 2.9 km
Average Width: 35 m
The Guelph North Spur opened in conjunction with the G&G in 1870, providing railway service for the city north to Elora and Fergus, and eventually Palmerston. It was owned and operated by the Wellington, Grey and Bruce Railway until GTR bought the railway in 1882.
CN (GTR’s successor) continued operating the line, with sections north of Guelph were abandoned in 1988. Today, CN operates up to the GJR’s industrial spurs, with the portion of the line north to the city limit technically being part of GJR operations.
Area: 15.8 ha
Length: 7.7 km
Average Width: 20 m
The city’s Northwest Industrial Area is served by two spurs.
The North Spur technically starts at its junction with the Goderich Subdivision, coming down and interchanging with CN’s North Spur. A wye connection then extends west into the city’s industrial area, terminating at Elmira Road. The South Spur interchanges with CN around the same spot along Edinburgh Road, and also terminates at Elmira Road.
Area: 117 ha
Length: 12.3 km
Average Width: 95 m
Guelph technically has only one highway: the Hanlon Expressway. It carries the designation of being part of Highway 6 within the city limits, and also as Highway 7 between Wellington Street and Woodlawn Road.
The Hanlon Expressway was constructed between 1972 and 1975. Despite the name, it was not a true expressway given the lack of grade-separated interchanges. This began changing in the 21st century. The Wellington Road interchange was opened in 2001, and another at Laird Road was built in 2013.
Additional grade separations are envisioned within the city limits, but it is unclear what the timeline for these are.
Highway 7 Extension
Area: 15.1 ha
Length: 0.65 km
Average Width: 234 m
An extension of Highway 7 to Kitchener/Waterloo has been on the books for some time. And while the province has slowly moved forward with land acquisition, for it, no firm date has been set. The portion within the City of Guelph technically ends 200 metres north of Curtis Drive, but the highway will bend westwards shortly after. There’s a chance that this may usher in a shift of the city’s northern boundary to align with it.
Stats and Mapping
|Length||33.1 km||13.0 km|
|Area||85.8 ha||132 ha|
|Average Width||26 m||102 m|
This dataset is available in multiple formats through the Open Data Portal